Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 6: Delaware Water Gap

And we're off!

And we’re off!

Last weekend we brought our friends out on their first backpacking trip, and first trek on the Appalachian Trail. As they live in Central Pennsylvania and we live in Connecticut, we decided to choose a section right in between.  We were preparing to start New Jersey either this season or next, as we are closing in on the end of Massachusetts. So it seemed a no-brainer to start New Jersey, but from the south, at Delaware Water Gap.

A great idea

A great idea

The area is incredibly scenic, and has 100 miles of trails including the Appalachian Trail. The A.T. section provides some of the best views in the park as it follows the ridgelines of the New Jersey highlands. You are treated to views of the Delaware river and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to the west, and New Jersey to the East. It turned out to be even more beautiful than expected, and a great first outing for our friends.

We started in the Dunnfield Creek natural area, less than 1 mile east of the Pennsylvania border in the DWG National Recreational Area. The Appalachian Trail passes through here after it crosses the I-80 bridge over the river.

Placing stones

Placing stones

The state line is painted on the bridge and many a hiker have a photo there. We contemplated starting on the PA side for this very reason, but ultimately decided that starting right into the woods would be more the experience we were looking for after 2 hrs driving the interstates and just plain needing a nature fix. Shortly after we headed into the woods the red dot trail branches off the A.T. and ascends mount Tammany, the dramatic mountaintop on the east side of the gap. We will come back for that hike on another occasion when an A.T. section isn’t the goal. They had these great carry out bags for trash, which I think we need to employ on our section  and will be recommending to my committee in Connecticut.

Hawk posing at sunset

Hawk posing at sunset

We ascended gently up an old carriage road, passing the creek and then many side trails as we headed to Backpacker’s Campsite. There used to also be a campsite on the junction of the Holly Springs trail, as there is a spring there. Not sure if it was for reasons other than the view that that campsite is no longer and the current one is a mile farther up on the mountaintop with epic views. But either way, Backpacker’s campsite 2 has great views as it rests right along the mountaintop’s western ridge.  Just bring water up for the night. I researched it in advance per usual so we hiked up with lots of water. I knew there would be a bunch of cairns at Sunfish pond but was surprised to find a bunch in the woods just off the Holly springs trail. We had fun adding a rock or two here and taking photos.

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Sunset was dramatic to say the least, and we also saw a hawk land on top of an old leafless treetop at dusk, which made for a great photo. The caretaker told us that all the bare trees here is because there was a fire from an illegal campsite and it burned much of the north side of the ridge. I’ll just leave that there. It made me felt better about why I enforce the rules I do in our part of the trail. There are actually many legal dispersed campsites for thru hikers along the trail here, so I don’t feel it’s out of utter necessity that these problematic stealth sites pop up in most cases. A lot of times, folks see a nice view and decide that they will break all the rules and make camp there, and a fire, and its always been in these instances that devastating results happen.

The Delaware from above

The Delaware from above

We had a nice chat with the caretaker and a thru hiker staying there, and then set up our camp. I helped my friends with their tent and using the stove and the bear box. We took in the sunset view over dinner and had fun talking until bed time. Entertainment included chasing away a black snake slithering around our tents. I believe we must have set up near his home…

In the morning, we were in the clouds we saw hanging over the next ridge the previous night. Any raindrops seemed to fall just on our tent, as they always seem to find it. We had some coffee and packed up and hit the trail, headed for the AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center.

Summit of Kittattiny

Summit of Kittattiny

This day’s hike provided view after view from the ridgelines as mentioned above. They really didn’t stop until we headed down into the gap to Mohican camp road. On top of one ridgeline you got a 270 degree view and a large cairn marked it’s summit. A hawk watching group was stationed there with various telescopes and cameras and a fake owl on a branch to bait the hawks who apparently like to swoop down and taunt their bird of prey rivals. We took some great photos up there and headed down to the road and to the MOC.

AMC Mohican Center

AMC Mohican Center

It’s about a half mile road walk from the trail crossing up to the main lodge. We checked in with the super friendly staff and got the keys to our private cabin, which it turns out is another half mile up the camp road. It was a great cabin with a dividing door but also the option to open it up to a suite until bedtime and for privacy. We had electricity, a fridge, a heater and fan, and a microwave. The rec center next door had full bathrooms with showers and a large room which was formerly a dining hall when this was a Boy Scout camp, filled with AMC pamphlets and miscellaneous educational collections of flora and fauna. The AMC has year round outings and camp type experiences for people of all ages and I imagine this space and these collections are part of that.

Our cabin at MOC

Our cabin at MOC

They had skywatching programs and astronomy lectures on this particular weekend, though we did not end up participating because we were sitting around the large fire ring between the cabin and the lodge with a bunch of the other hikers and families we met at dinner. Dinner was a homemade family style affair, which was quite filling and tasty. Afterwards we got a ride into town to pick up a few groceries and beverages. We got to bed late but it was worth sitting around the fire with new friends and the milky way above. Next time we go back we will take out a canoe or kayak. Catfish pond was very inviting.  With the 3 walks to and from the cabin I’m sure we clocked another 3 miles that day!

Ready for day 3

Ready for day 3

The next morning we had a breakfast of eggs, bacon, french toast, home fries and various breads. And of course, lots of coffee! We picked up some nice items at their shop and hit the trail a bit earlier on day 3 as we had to be back at our cars by lunchtime.  Again we woke in the fog, but today it didn’t break until we were off trail. We climbed back out of the gap and along the ridges; some quite close to the edge and with a significant drop. With the clouds all around it was almost a bit spooky, but eased any real vertigo because you couldn’t see how far the drop was.

Was probably a great view!

Was probably a great view!

We did throw a rock off one though to see how long it took until we heard it land! Far enough… In a few short miles we reached the Catfish fire tower, but it was closed. Still we enjoyed a snack at the picnic table before our final walk out to the road where we parked on the first day. They occasionally have someone there who will bring you up for the views, but as it was a whiteout still, I imagine they waited until later in the day so there was an actual view.

Autumn Sassafras

Autumn Sassafras

Still, we had lots of views the previous days so it was no big disappointment. I look forward to going back to Mohican as well as exploring some of the other AMC lodges in New York, New Hampshire and Maine for family trips. The only downside was there was no signal at all at the cabin so we had to walk the half mile to get wifi. They also had a phone in the main lodge for emergencies.

Our friends also got their trail names: Skippy (for his skipping stones at Sunfish Pond) and Bird Bitch (because she’s really into birds and birdwatching).

It should be added that before and after the hike, we enjoyed spending time in nearby Blairstown, NJ — both on its quaint historic main street and a modern brewery after the hike.

Catfish fire tower

Catfish fire tower

It was a huge success and we are excited to continue the march north through New Jersey together staring in the spring. Now that we know they’re naturals at it, we will do longer miles next time. They were on the short side for this first trip. But not lacking in fun and adventure one bit.

Miles day 1: 3.5

Miles day 2: 5.8 (+3 miles in camp)

Miles day 3: 3.7

– Linus

 

 

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Ridgerunner Weekend #5 – Salisbury to Sages Ravine

No rain, no pain, no maine!

No rain, no pain, no maine!

This was my final weekend as a summer ridgerunner for the 2017 season, and it was full of excitement!  I knew there was rain in the forecast but wow did it rain. I hit the trail Sunday morning around 10am in Salisbury, headed for Sages Ravine just over the Massachusetts border; about 7 miles and change. It was raining when I drove up and raining when I started and raining when I got to Lion’s Head an hour later. It was raining hard. I know this is part of the job and I’ve been lucky considering this is the first day I was out in weather this bad the whole season. Lion’s head was completely socked in so there was no view. I pushed on to Riga shelter to take a snack break and get out of the rain for a bit and dry out my raincoat which was no match for this kind of rain and wet through partially in less than 1.5 hrs.  I called my friend Brian from the shelter to see if he could meet up to hike later while I had some trail mix and let the coat dry out. There was a tiny bit of a view at Riga but not much. Not the amazing normal view anyway.

the "trail" up Lion's Head

the “trail” up Lion’s Head

I set out about 30 minutes later when the rain diminished a bit. Often times the forecast says rain but the estimate is over what actually occurs. Not the case today. A few minutes after I hit the trail again the downpours continued. Luckily no one left me any trash at the shelter or in its bear box I had to carry out.

The trail was literally a river. There was no way, nor is it recommended, to walk around as there is laurel right up to the edge and doing so can damage them and the wildflowers along the edges. It was colder in the morning but by this point was in the low 60s so walking through them was just kinda like walking along the beach in boat shoes. Trail runners are great in this scenario though because the water flows right out and it was actually kind of refreshing. My only concern was swamp foot from hiking for hours with wet feet. I wasn’t hiking long enough for it to get that bad, thankfully.

Socked in Lion's Head "view"

Socked in Lion’s Head “view”

I made another stop at Brassie Brook shelter to take a bathroom break and spoke to a section hiker taking shelter under its roof. I had already seen about 14 backpackers braving the weather. After all, this weather is not all that uncommon for regular backpackers.  I was moving as fast as I could to get to camp and out of the rain. I was lucky enough to have been permitted use of the caretakers tent so I was looking forward to being able to set up and unpack without the rain bearing down on me. I would be luckier than most on this day.

The rainy "view" at Riga

The rainy “view” at Riga

I made the judgement call to take the Undermountain and Paradise Lane trails from Riga junction rather than go over the many steep and exposed rock faces on Bear mountain, particularly the north side. This added a mile but was far safer.  I need to get a new otter box because my phone was not responsive to my squishy wet fingers and the humidity also made it act up again like in Harpers Ferry in July.  Somewhere in the process of my mad 8 mile dash in the rain, I managed to jam my big toe so the bone feels bruised if not fractured (hopefully not). It hurts but is functional so hopefully it’s just bruising. All that rushing meant I made good time though and was at camp by 230.

A tent inside a tent

A tent inside a tent

When I arrived at the campsite, two hikers were in the caretakers tent drying out gear. This is not allowed, please don’t do this, the tent is for staff only. However given the horrible conditions, and the friendly nature of the two men, I allowed them time to pack up their wet things in the shelter of the tent and we chatted a while. I gave them some advice on the upcoming section as they wanted to push much farther, having zeroed most of the day waiting out the rain. As there are some precarious bits ahead, especially when wet, I let them know about the campsites before those areas should they need to pull back and wait out the rain again. And of course, the rain began again shortly after they left around 330. When it finally ended it was around 630-7. I enjoyed listening to it on the roof of the tent as I always do. I enjoyed it even more this time as I was finally out of the rain.

Exterior of caretaker's tent

Exterior of caretaker’s tent

Despite seeing a decent amount of backpackers on the trail, no one else came in to spend the night at the campsite. I was surprised as it’s a very popular one and there was a group there just the night before in addition to the two men I met. I think given the rain they all opted for a campsite with a shelter and a roof.

I had dinner and setup my small tent inside the large canvas tent, so I had effective bug protection. This was the final weekend for that tent so my coordinator informed me the bug net and cot were already packed and they’d be packing the tent the next day after I left.  So I was grateful to have access to it, even in its most minimal state. It did what I needed most, kept me dry!  I changed out of my wet clothes and hung everything to dry out the best they could.

Dawn at Sages Ravine

Dawn at Sages Ravine

I had managed to get a little reception on my phone by going up the hill so I did a round around the campsite and checked the privies, bear boxes and other tent sites and coordinated with Brian to meet him the next morning at the intersection of the A.T and the Northwest road. He and his friend were planning to hit the state high point on nearby Mt Frissell, so we planned to hike over Bear together and then they could do the Frissell trail next as it was right across the road from the Northwest road and Bear Mountain road where they’d come out.

Some screech owls and other critters lulled me off to sleep… sorta. I also read the register book to help!

Monday, Labor day, was a gorgeous one. And the challenging scramble up the north side of Bear was a lot more fun with friends. It was also mostly dry at that point being so exposed to the sun and so vertical. I made quick friends with Jodi, and we met the other ridgerunner I knew was also out for his final weekend as we neared the summit. We spent some time on the summit tower with some day hikers and then headed down the south side of Bear, with its great southern and western views. I pointed out Frissell to them and some of the other mountains on their next hike.

Linus and Jodi climbing the steep north side of Bear Mtn

Linus and Jodi climbing the steep north side of Bear Mtn

When we got to the trail junction for Bear Mountain road, we made plans to see each other at our CT chapter’s A.T. day in October,. exchanged photos and headed our separate ways. I made quick time to Lion’s head and remarked to myself how quickly all those rivers on the trail were already dried up.  I passed large numbers of day hikers and quite a few more backpackers. Everyone was out in force enjoying the gorgeous day. Funny, I had said “beautiful day isn’t it!” to all the hikers as a joke the day previous, and today it was in earnest. Lots of hikers had their dogs out with them, and one family at Lion’s head were visiting with their son for the first time since they had gotten engaged there. The warm, dry weather also allowed me to dry out my shoes, socks and clothes which I had to put on damp in the morning. Luckily I had lots of sunshine instead of another day of rainy hiking in my wet clothes.

Ridgerunners Linus and Mike

Ridgerunners Linus and Mike

I recently purchased a new pack (Osprey EXOS 48) with my gear discount and I love it. It performed flawlessly on it maiden voyage, and is super comfortable. I highly recommend it. Many thru hikers use it as a superlight pack, though at around 50 liters most use it for a few days out at at a time. I just needed a little extra space than I had before, and wanted it as well for its ‘airspeed’ suspension which allows your back to be ventilated as well as the ‘stow and go’ trekking pole loops. Those were super convenient for the scrambles and the flats where I didn’t want or need the poles.

All in all the trip was a great success. I stuck it out through some very bad conditions. It’s great to know you have the skills to persevere and make proper judgement calls in inclement, dangerous weather. And I was rewarded with a perfect day the second day.

Linus, Jodi and Brian on Bear Mtn summit

Linus, Jodi and Brian on Bear Mtn summit

I am still a year-round volunteer so you will likely still see me out there either patrolling (volunteer ridgerunning) or doing improvements to the CT section as part of a work party. I love fall and spring hiking as well, and the woods are my happy place. I plan to return as a weekend ridgerunner in the 2018 season if they’ll have me.  I hope to see you out there soon. In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I have section hikes planned with friends in New Jersey and Massachusetts in the coming weeks so look for reports on those adventures.

Miles day 1: 7.6

Miles day 2: 6

– Linus